Your excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I’m very proud and honoured to be connected to the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies under its inspirational leader Farhan and also under His Highness Prince Turki who contributes so brilliantly to the leadership of the Oxford Centre. And I hope you will accept this salutation, especially as it comes from a Cambridge man.
We live in extraordinary times. We are safer, richer and longer-living than at any time in our history but we also face existential threats, from climate change to pandemics and from devastating weapons to cyber attacks.
Thirty years of incredible human progress between 1990 and 2020 is now sharply in reverse, partly because of the Covid pandemic, and other events too like the illegal invasion of Ukraine and what it has done to the food chain and what it has done to inflation in very poor countries, mean that all the dials which were moving forward so successfully are now in reverse and we have to do something about that.
On my visit to Turkey last month, where the UK is delivering lifesaving support following the devastating earthquakes, I witnessed just how swiftly and tragically these things can change.
We must meet these challenges head on, for the sake of future generations, and collaboration is central to this.
Sir Isaac Newton spoke of standing on the shoulders of giants, and in our collective history we have made startling progress through shared learning and co-operation on science and technology.
In the early medieval period, the extraordinary intellectual flowering of the Islamic world helped shape the scientific landscape we know today. And we heard some examples of that earlier this afternoon.
Institutions like the Bayt al Hikma (House of Wisdom) in Baghdad, and its counterparts in Damascus, Cairo and Fez, translated texts from Greece, Rome, India, Persia and beyond.
They brought startling insights and discoveries that radically changed our understanding of everything from maths to medicine, physics to optics, astronomy to the natural world.
Through the multi-faith, multi-ethnic courts of Palermo, Toledo and Cordoba, these ideas catalysed the European Renaissance.
The challenges we face today call for a similar spirit of curiosity and collaboration.
As with the past, we now look to a future of partnership with the Islamic world, with opportunities from the grassroots to the global level.
Indeed, as two major global aid donors, I look forward to welcoming our Saudi friends to London next week for the inaugural annual high-level aid dialogue.
Together, we will identify new opportunities for collaboration to respond to rising development and humanitarian needs.
I turn now to our approach in the United Kingdom.
Over the last 25 years in particular, the United Kingdom has invested hugely in supporting our partners to improve education, health and the environment, from Afghanistan to Nigeria, and from Bangladesh to the Gambia.
Many tens of thousands of Muslim students have studied in the UK through our Chevening and British Council scholarships, returning to enrich their communities with what they have learnt.
And two weeks ago I was in Jordan where I saw first-hand how UK support helps 150,000 children a year to receive a quality education.
But it is clear that traditional models of cooperation, aid and development will no longer meet the needs of the modern world.
Today I would like to talk about our vision for the years to come, a vision in which our friends from across the Muslim world play a vital role.
One that places science and technology at the heart of our work, with all the benefits this brings to both prosperity and to security.
A vision that couples strength with resilience, boosting our defences and enhancing our response to climate change and global health threats.
When it comes to climate change, we must of course act together, with the greatest urgency.
We have already witnessed the devastating impacts across the planet, from scorching temperatures and dust storms across the Gulf, to fires in Algeria and devastating floods in Pakistan and Indonesia.
On a visit recently to Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, I saw the startling effects of climate change on food security where everyday the equivalent in terms of agricultural land if row of people were held back to the tune of 500 football pitches every single day.
As hosts of the COP27 and COP28 respectively, Egypt and the United Emirates have not only brought their leadership and networks to bear, but built upon the environmental stewardship so deeply embedded in Islam.
We saw this back in 2015, when prominent scholars combined Islamic and scientific principles to draft the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change, calling on all nations to commit to net zero – and helping to lay the groundwork for the Paris Agreement.
Six years later, Muslim faith leaders joined their counterparts from other religions in signing the ’Faith and Science Appeal for COP26’, together highlighting the important work Muslim leaders and their institutions can do to build a bridge between science and faith, and put commitments into action.
For the United Kingdom, partnerships with Muslim countries play a vital role in our work to protect the planet and restore nature.
One great example is our work with Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia to support renewables, green industry and clean transport, like electric buses to reduce the pollution and congestion in Amman.
This is all backed with £25 million in UK climate finance.
In Indonesia, our Just Energy Transition Partnership support is powering the transition away from fossil fuels and towards a green economy, unlocking billions in private finance for new infrastructure.
I turn now to the issue of Public health.
Beyond climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic has been another stark reminder that individual safety, national security and global prosperity are interconnected.
All rely on healthy and productive societies – which we cannot achieve without strong and inclusive health systems.
This is why the UK is at the forefront of work to achieve this, along with our global partners.
The University of Oxford is working in close collaboration with other academic institutions, including the Zayed and Khalifa Universities in the UAE, supporting efforts to combat anti-microbial resistance and infectious diseases.
In Yemen, the UK, working with UNICEF, has made pioneering use of satellite imagery to forecast cholera risks and thereby intervene quickly.
And in January, I saw for myself the vital work being done on vaccines and tests for COVID and other deadly diseases at the world-class Institut Pasteur de Dakar in Senegal, backed by UK funding and with support from companies in the UK and in the Republic of Korea.
I returned from Senegal feeling energised and optimistic.
I had seen first-hand the role research hubs are playing in partnership with organisations across the public and private sector, all working together to tackle today’s biggest global problems.
I know friends in this room see this just as clearly, which is why so many of you are investing heavily in education, in science and in technology.
We know it is critical to harness all the brainpower and expertise we have, right across society.
Nowhere more so than in the technology sector, where solutions are so often found outside of government and often with philanthropists.
That is why we are glad to see the developing partnership between the Qatar Foundation and Rolls-Royce, to advance work on climate technology in the UK and Qatar, where I was on Sunday, creating thousands of jobs and new opportunities for global investors.
The problems of today’s world simply cannot be solved by money alone, so the answers lie in sharing scientific and technological expertise, and in investing in our business and trade networks in countries around the world, including many of our friends who are here in this magnificent room today.
This is how we make the smartest investments and find the brightest and best people to come up with solutions, and this is how we address inequalities and promote opportunity.
Allow me to share just two examples of projects the British Government is sponsoring with friends around the world.
The first is the UK-Gulf Women in Cybersecurity Fellowship, where rising stars in the cyber world from Gulf countries are supporting positive female role models, promoting peer-to-peer learning and boosting collaboration on cyber between their countries and the United Kingdom.
The second is in Pakistan, where the UK has linked up with Sehat Kehani, a women-led telemedicine platform, which provides health care for Afghan refugees and displaced people, especially girls and women.
Not only does this platform use smart technology to help patients access the best possible care, it also provides employment for more than 5,000 female doctors.
Examples like this just remind us how fast technology is changing – and how vital it is to harness its power, together with the power that comes from working in partnership.
If I may conclude, your Excellencies this is why I am so excited by the potential of this new research venture, and delighted to celebrate its launch today.
In a world that is not short of division, what better way to build bridges than through collaboration and cooperation?
We have already made great progress together, and this project will find many more opportunities across health, science and technology opportunities to solve the huge challenges we face, and build a healthier, safer, more prosperous world for our children and grandchildren, my first of which is expected to enter this world in just nine weeks from now
Thank you very much.